Like a pack of waiting wolves, lurking in the background of ongoing planning for the restoration and management of gray wolves in Colorado is a burning issue:
Should animal hunting possibly be allowed in the state?
If the hunt were to take place, it would be years later, everyone seems to agree. But a debate is already ensuing over whether, barring a change in state law, it would even be legal, let alone appropriate, for Colorado Parks and Wildlife to allow wolf hunting.
Some argue that Proposition 114, the 2020 measure approved by Colorado voters requiring restoration of wolves in the state to begin by the end of 2023, makes it clear that wolves should not be hunted. For others, it is still an open legal question.
Meanwhile, discussions on the topic of wolf hunting at meetings of the Stakeholder Advisory Group and Technical Working Group, as they worked to make recommendations to Parks and Wildlife on the restoration plan and wolf management that the agency will prepare, concerns wolf advocates who responded by commissioning a poll to find out if Coloradans support wolf trophy hunting.
“The people of Colorado certainly don’t want it,” said Wendy Keefover, senior strategist for native carnivore protection for the Humane Society of the United States, summarizing the poll results, which were released Wednesday.
The survey, conducted by Missouri-based research group Remington late last month, found that 64% of 1,500 Coloradans respondents likely to vote in this fall’s election said trophy wolf hunting is not should not be allowed in the state. This included 56% of respondents living on the West Slope, 57% of Republican respondents, three-quarters of Democratic respondents, and 59% of independent respondents.
Fourteen percent of respondents came from the West Slope, 40% were Republicans, 36% Democrats and 24% independents. Remington, a Republican polling firm, said the survey was weighted to match turnout results expected this fall, and the margin of error is plus or minus 2.6% with a 95 confidence level. %.
Currently, the gray wolf is federally listed as an endangered species in states like Colorado, which means hunting the animal is illegal in the state as long as it remains the case. It is also state listed as endangered in Colorado, where only a few of the animals have lived in recent years. A May report released by the Technical Working Group, comprised primarily of people with expertise in reintroducing or managing wolves in a state or federal capacity, outlined a phased listing/delisting approach. According to this approach, he said that phase 1 correlates with the current status of the endangered state and that phase 2 would imply a status of the threatened state based on a minimum of at least 50 wolves in state for four consecutive years. Phase 3 would involve the state removing the animal from the list while retaining its non-game status. A fourth phase, he said, would be a discretionary phase under which the wolf could be designated as a game species, meaning regulated hunting could be permitted.
The group included a Phase 4 footnote stating that the inclusion of the phase does not indicate a consensus recommendation from the group on whether the phase should occur, but is intended to demonstrate that the approaches progressives can potentially include classification as a game species.
“The TWG recognized that the decision whether or not to move to game classification should take into account a variety of information and perspectives and will also be informed by legal considerations, including the authorities’ interpretation of the definition gray wolves in CRS 33-2105.8 as being a non-game species,” the footnote says.
That’s a reference to voter-approved state law, which includes language defining the gray wolf as “non-game wildlife of the species canis lupus.”
Delia Malone, conservationist and chair of the Sierra Club’s Colorado chapter wildlife committee, said in an interview earlier this year that the language of the law is clear. She said she was involved in writing this language and the science behind it was unambiguous. She said that when wolf hunting occurs it destroys the structure of the pack, which she says was demonstrated by what was a kind of “free for all” involving the hunting of wolves that wandered off the Yellowstone National Park. She said wolves are successful in moderating ungulate numbers when acting as a family, eliminating old, weak and disabled prey, and restoring ecological balance.
“When they are hunted or trapped, these families are separated. Their ability to strengthen the keystone of biological diversity is destroyed,” she said.
She said that because of the wording of Proposition 114, which is legislation, hunting wolves would only be allowed if that law were changed.
Parks and Wildlife Commissioner Jay Tutchton, an attorney, argued the same in at least one commission meeting and in an interview. While an older state law states that the Parks and Wildlife Commission has the authority to report game species, Tutchton said that under legal rules of statutory interpretation, later statutes the outweigh the previous ones and the more specific ones outweigh the more general ones, leading him to believe that the Proposition 114 language is the controlling law.
He said he thinks if the commission designates wolves as a game species without changing the law, it would be sued the next day and lose.
“I think people who want wolves as a game species should take their case to the legislature,” he said.
Gary Skiba, retired from Parks and Wildlife after a career as a wildlife biologist and a member of the stakeholder advisory group, said he was unsure whether a change in the law would be needed to allow wolf hunting. He said he and others at the group’s meetings had asked the question repeatedly.
“There was no clear answer,” he said.
He said Parks and Wildlife apparently received verbal communications from the state attorney general’s office on the matter, but did not share those communications with the group.
He said one question is whether the language of Proposition 114 is a legal designation of wolves as a non-game species, or simply a description of their status at the time the law was passed. While those behind the initiative believe the language is clear in its intent, others believe it does not limit the commission’s authority on the issue of Wolf’s non-playing/playing status, a- he declared.
“From a non-lawyer perspective, I can argue one way or the other. I have no idea what that really means,” Skiba said.
“It’s a legal question. I don’t know how this is resolved,” said Renee Deal, a Somerset rancher and game outfitter who also sat on the stakeholder advisory group.
“But I believe most people who voted on Proposition 114 would say they probably didn’t even realize it said ‘non-game species’ and don’t even know what it means.”
Technical and stakeholder groups held their final meetings in August, and parks and wildlife staff plan to present a draft wolf restoration and management plan to the commission in December, using recommendations from both. groups. Agency spokesman Travis Duncan said the agency hasn’t come up with anything at this point and that the listing/delisting technical group’s recommendations are up to the commission to consider at the end of the term. account.
The stakeholder group did not reach consensus on whether to allow wolf hunting, but recommended by consensus that a decision on the matter not be made in the restoration and management plan that should be finalized in 2023.
Skiba said he opposes recreational wolf hunting.
“I just don’t see the reason for it,” he said.
He said he has no objection to the use of lethal controls to resolve conflicts with wolves as a last resort, once non-lethal options have been exhausted. But in addition to deeming wolf hunting unnecessary, he cited the state’s changing demographics and changing attitudes toward wildlife, as evidenced by recent survey results.
Deal said she doesn’t have a position one way or the other on the issue of wolf hunting, but thinks it should be up to the agency to decide whether hunting is a necessary tool.
“My position has always been that I believe hunting is a management tool that can be used by CPW. I feel like it is up to them to decide whether or not hunting should be implemented for wolf management.
She added: “I think most hunters, most sportsmen would be offended by the term trophy hunting because they don’t believe that’s what they’re doing.”
In their press release of the poll results, groups such as the Humane Society and the Sierra Club said that trophy hunting is hunting where the primary motivation is to kill wildlife for photo ops and to obtain and display body parts, including heads, skins, and capes.
“Trophy hunters kill animals primarily for bragging rights, not primarily for food,” they said.
Deal said there are provisions in Colorado law that make trophy hunting illegal. “Hunting is an ethical method of taking animals either for management purposes or for their meat or fur,” she said.
She said she thinks most sports people in Colorado believe in the North American model that hunting can help with wildlife management and wildlife management funding.
The recent poll also found that 62% of respondents said wolf trapping should not be allowed.
The groups behind the poll noted that in 1996, state voters approved a state constitutional measure banning trapping on public lands, so wolf trapping could only occur. by an amendment to this constitution.
Rob Edward, a Rocky Mountain Wolf Project adviser who helped lead the 2020 Ballot initiative, said in the group’s statement, “The numbers don’t lie, and these results clearly show that the people of Colorado want wolves are protected. Colorado voters did not support restoring wolves so they could later be hunted and trapped.